Online tools like ZocDoc, HealthGrades, and Yelp have become popular among people who search for information about physicians and hospitals. Yelp, one of the most widely used platforms, allows patients to rate health-care providers through a five-star rating system that can include narrative text reviews. In 2015, Yelp partnered with ProPublica to publish average wait times, readmission rates, and the quality of communication scores for more than 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis clinics. According to some research, Yelp reviews correlate with Medicare surveys such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). We don’t know, however, how accurate these reviews are for identifying quality doctors and hospitals.
This paper examines whether there is a correlation between Yelp reviews of New York State hospitals and objective measures of hospital quality. We find that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals and that they provide a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different facilities as measured by potentially preventable readmission rates (PPR), a widely accepted metric. Yelp alone is not, nor can it be, the only guide to quality hospitals. However, when people can choose where they will obtain care, Yelp ratings can provide a helpful guide. These ratings will get even better at helping people as the number of Yelp reviews increases. New York State policymakers, private and public employers, and Yelp itself thus have an opportunity to help consumers navigate the health-care system by considering the following recommendations:
- Help make Yelp scores and reviews more visible when consumers are making important decisions about health-care coverage—for instance, when choosing among competing insurers’ hospital networks on New York State’s health-insurance exchange.
- Link objective, simple quality metrics onto the Yelp review page for hospitals to allow patients with specific concerns to access more detailed information that would complement and better inform Yelp quality ratings.
- Fund targeted “hackathons” that find ways to make Yelp and other social media reviews more accessible to high-needs, vulnerable populations—including caregivers for the frail, elderly, non-English-speaking, or low-income minority populations.
By disseminating neutral, clear signals about basic hospital quality, social media tools can also improve the ability of higher-quality hospitals to compete to attract market share, leading to more lives saved and more costs avoided for patients, taxpayers, and employers.